Code breakers: How PwC’s Hive Academy is boosting young people’s confidence in their digital future

Sponsored content from PwC. By Narelle Height, senior outreach education manager at PwC Channel Islands

 (30200665) Narelle Height, senior outreach education manager at PwC Channel Islands
(30200665) Narelle Height, senior outreach education manager at PwC Channel Islands

Working closely with schools, businesses can play a key role in equipping young people to succeed in a digital world. This is what PwC’s Hive Academy aims to do. We don’t just teach technical skills, but also help to instil the 4Cs of EdTech – curiosity, creativity, collaboration and confidence – needed to make the most of new technology.

ALONGSIDE reading, writing and arithmetic, we now have a fourth educational essential – digital skills.

The need to get technical education up to speed reflects a world that is digitising at a phenomenal pace. By the time today’s Year 1 pupils finish school, the way people live, work and interact could be almost unrecognisable. Change on this scale can cause apprehension.

PwC analysis reveals that around 30% of jobs in Jersey and Guernsey are potentially at risk from automation between now and 2035. But digital transformation also brings opportunities to free people from mundane work and create new and more fulfilling tech-enabled forms of employment.

Falling short

How can we ensure our young people are ready for this brave new world? As a teacher, university lecturer and now team member at PwC, this is the question I’ve spent my career seeking to address. From my experience, it’s clear that there is still a lot of work to do.

Computing and digital skills form an important part of the national curriculum. Teachers do a great job in developing a digital grounding in the early years. But engagement in computing and related skills falls off as students go through school. This is highlighted by the low and declining numbers of students studying the subject at GCSE in the UK. The low uptake among female students is especially troubling. As my experience as a lecturer highlighted, this gender imbalance is reflected in student and staff numbers on university computing courses.

The shift from ICT to a more rigorous computer science curriculum is designed to raise skill levels. But if students are put off computing beforehand, we are not going to equip our young people with the digital awareness and capabilities they need.

This disengagement is compounded by gaps in teaching and not enough linking up between the key stakeholders. Non-specialist teachers often lack sufficient support and confidence in their ability to teach computing. Businesses are keen to help. But often what they offer schools is not aligned with the national curriculum and therefore teachers are reluctant to use it. In turn, businesses often complain that students come out of school without the basic skills they need in the world of work. And this does not apply just to coding and other technical capabilities but also to broader aptitudes such as teamwork and problem-solving.

A bridge to the future

Here at PwC, we are determined to play our part in bridging these gaps and ensuring school-leavers have the skills and confidence to succeed. This is why we developed the Hive Academy programme.

Hive Academy provides tailored training and support for teachers, students and parents. Rather than just focusing on IT skills, the programme also looks at the kind of capabilities that are critical in releasing the potential of technology, fostering innovation and improving future employability. These include creativity, collaboration, communication, emotional intelligence, computational thinking, problem-solving and negotiation.

Having designed and deployed the Hive Academy programme while working at PwC in Northern Ireland, I joined the PwC team here in the Channel Islands in August last year to bring similar opportunities to schools in Jersey and Guernsey. We have already run pilots for Les Landes, a primary school, Haute Vallée, a secondary school, and Mont à l’Abbé – a school for children with special educational needs.

We liaised closely with teachers to work out how we could best support them in their particular schools. The Covid-19 restrictions have affected what we have been able to offer. However, this has also been an opportunity to develop a broader range of remote classes and new innovations such as our Tech Friday live virtual coding sessions.

Bringing computing to life

Through the Hive Academy, we want to engage students by demonstrating the importance of digital technologies in all areas of life. If you want to be a hairdresser, for example, digital will be critical to booking, payment and marketing your business. We are also determined to make computing fun. For example, one of the initiatives we’re planning to roll out in our second year is the Innovate course. This includes a Dragon’s-Den-inspired competition where students get to develop and present ideas, with prizes for the best entries.

To encourage teachers to take up the programme, we want to make it as relevant as possible to the national curriculum. This includes curriculum-aligned coding courses and classes on how to create a profile for job platforms. To help build confidence among non-specialist teachers, we offer structured lesson plans and dedicated resources, training and support. Following this initial input, teachers are able to deliver the programme themselves in the following school year, though we are always on hand if they need help.

Hive Academy is still in the early days in the Channel Islands. But I know from my experience in Northern Ireland what a difference the programme can make. Before we ran one of our training events, we asked the students whether they would consider a career in technology. Less than 50% said yes. After a day on the course, this rose to 85%. So far, around 7,000 students from 250 schools have taken part in Northern Ireland, and 450 teachers benefited from upskilling.

What’s good for Jersey is good for us

This is a major investment for PwC. We provide the facilitators, customised course design, software, training for teachers and other elements of the programme free of charge. What’s our motivation?

Well, Hive Academy is good for us. We’re moving to a more digitally-enabled way of working and serving clients. Having the new generation come through with the right skills and training will provide a valuable source of talent for PwC, our clients and our suppliers. A lot of our people also volunteer as Hive Academy facilitators. This is hugely rewarding for them. It also enables them to apply their digital capabilities and hone their engagement and problem-solving skills. Ultimately, this is the right thing to do. We want to play our part in creating a prosperous and fulfilling future for the community here in Jersey.

If you would like to know more about Hive Academy and how we could support your school, please visit pwc.com/jg/en/hivehackers or email narelle.height@pwc.com.

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